Study: FEMA Buyout Program Could be Accelerating Segregation

A new analysis of the relocation patterns of households that participate in FEMA’s flood buyout program reveals a pattern of increased racial segregation.

2 minute read

June 22, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

New research into what happens to homeowners who participate in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) buyout program for flood-prone properties indicates that the program, while it encourages managed retreat in the face of rising sea levels and increased flood risks, “program outcomes look very different depending on the racial makeup of a given neighborhood.” 

“The first difference is in who takes buyouts in the first place,” Jake Bittle explains in Grist. “The average majority-white buyout area had an almost 90 percent chance of flooding by 2050, compared to as low as around 50 percent for majority-Black buyout areas. This suggests that white households only participate in the program when the flood risk around them is severe, and otherwise tend to stay put.” This could be due in part to better investment in flood mitigation infrastructure in richer areas or a better chance of selling homes through the private market rather than opting for a FEMA buyout.

Another finding reveals that households from white-majority neighborhoods are more likely to move to other white-majority areas after a buyout. Jim Elliott, lead author of the study, “believes the data shows white families in all neighborhoods using buyout money to move to wealthier and whiter areas.”

The study concludes that “FEMA money seems to grease the wheels of pre-existing processes of white flight and urban segregation, allowing white households to leave behind diversifying neighborhoods and entrench themselves in other white suburbs and towns.”

Elliott suggests the buyout program should provide additional support for low-income households so they can access a wider variety of housing in their new neighborhoods and keep a more detailed record of how the program affects participating households.

Friday, June 16, 2023 in Grist

Three colorful, large beachfront homes, one khaki, one blue, and one yellow, with a small dune in front and flat sand in foreground.

Florida Homeowners 'Nope Out' of Beach Restoration Over Public Access

The U.S. Corps of Engineers and Redington Shores, Florida are at a standstill: The Corps won’t spend public money to restore private beaches, and homeowners are refusing to grant public access to the beaches behind their home in return for federal assistance.

June 7, 2024 - Grist

Multistory apartment building under construction.

New Tennessee Law Allows No-Cost Incentives for Affordable Housing

Local governments in the Volunteer State can now offer developers incentives like increased density, lower parking requirements, and priority permitting for affordable housing projects.

June 10, 2024 - Nooga Today

Pumping Gas

10 States Where the Gas Tax Is Highest

As the gap between gas tax revenue and transportation funding needs widen across the country, the funding mechanism is drawing increased scrutiny from both public officials and consumers.

June 9, 2024 - The Ascent

Concrete walkway with landscaping, decorative tiles, and picnic tables in a Los Angeles County park.

Wish Granted: Former Brownfield Transformed to New Park

Wishing Tree Park in West Carson, California officially opened last month, replacing a brownfield site with a much-needed green space for recreation and respite.

June 14 - Urbanize LA

"No right turn on red" and "Turning vehicles yield to pedestrians" sign.

The Tide is Turning on Right Turns on Red

The policy, which stems from the gas embargo of the 1970s, makes intersections more dangerous for pedestrians.

June 14 - NPR

Thick green forest on edge of lake in Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisville Begins Process to Clean Superfund Site

A public forest is home to dozens of barrels that have been leaking toxic materials for decades.

June 14 - Inside Climate News

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.